GHF2008 – PS11 – Strengthening National Health Information Systems

Session Outline

Parallel session PS11, Monday, May 26 2008, 11:00-12:30, Room 18
Chair(s): Don de Savigny, Professor and Head, Interventions and Health Systems Research Unit, Department of Public Health and Epidemiology, Swiss Tropical Institute, Switzerland
Strengthening National Health Information Systems: Progress and Prospects from the Health Metrics Network, Part I
Don de Savigny, Professor and Head, Interventions and Health Systems Research Unit, Department of Public Health and Epidemiology, Swiss Tropical Institute, Switzerland
Strengthening National Health Information Systems: Progress and Prospects from the Health Metrics Network, Part II
Akunda Pallangyo, Technical Officer, Health Metrics Network Secretariat, WHO, Switzerland 
Strengthening National Health Information Systems: Progress and Prospects from the Health Metrics Network, Part III
David Lubinski, Senior Technical Adviser, Health Metrics Network, WHO, Switzerland 

Session Document

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Session Report

Contributors: Erika Troutman (ICVolunteers)

A child waits outside a primary health centre in Dayalpur, near Ballabgarh. Born into a country with an estimated population of 1.1 billion, his birth may never be formally counted. With such a huge population, it is practically impossible for India to have complete birth registration. Photo: WHO/Gurinder Osan

"In order for an information system to be valuable, we have to look at who will use it", states David Lubinsky, Senior Technical Advisor of the Health Metrics Network at the World Health Organization. He asserts that the Health Metrics Network (HMN) provides an essential service where, in his own words, HMN has "taken the initiative to fill a void".

"In order for an information system to be valuable, we have to look at who will use it", stated David Lubinsky, Senior Technical Advisor of the Health Metrics Network (HMN) at the World Health Organization. He asserted that the HMN provides an essential service where, in his own words, HMN has "taken the initiative to fill a void". Within a country, there are various organizations, departments, donors, and numerous other health-related workers collecting data. This data is fragmented and most times gathered and analyzed from the limited perspective and needs of the one who is accruing it. Such a vast accumulation of systems and databases, each skewed towards one's own agenda, does not become useful to a country as a whole. All of this information is important, yet there is no central framework. Every country, at every level, has a need for health information and data to be organized, current, reliable, and most importantly useful for the very people the Health Information Systems (HIS) are created for. The topic of Strengthening National Health Information Systems (HIS) actually brought up some fundamentally frustrating observations and experiences of health workers all over the world. There is a passionate response to this topic. There is also a strong concurrence among health workers, of political and local levels, that there is a definite need for an accurate, standardized, current, and accessible HIS for low to middle-income countries. HIS are needed that will not only improve the overall health system, but health of the community more generally speaking.

The Health Metrics Network serves 65 countries (the 66th to be Mozambique), predominately countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. There are also a few participating countries within Europe and Latin America. The key questions HMN asks are:

  • Who is the Health Information System created for?
  • What are their needs?
  • How do you achieve results that are useful to the country and benefit the local communities?

Akundo Pallangyo, Technical Officer of the Health Metrics Network Secretariat at WHO, stated that HMN takes "a holistic approach to strengthen HIS" in bringing everyone involved to the table, in a collaborative effort. Pallangyo maintained that, "coordination between national institutions and private donors is critical to the sustainability of HIS", and so is interaction between the Ministry of Health and regional health workers. HMN provides the tools, organization, and processes to guide a country into the initial assessment stages, through developing a strategic plan, securing funding, examining and organizing the results, continuing with reassessments and changes as needed. It is an ongoing learning process to improve the overall quality of the services provided. One of the programs HMN is developing now, to hopefully deploy within this year, is a tool to organize the approximately 100 different HIS available into one comprehensible database, all accessible on one site.

The findings from participating countries assert that HMN is useful, appreciated, and endorsed within countries. HMN's strategic plans are "powerful at leveraging financing for HIS strengthening", said Lubinsky, which is, he stated, "critical to securing funding". One aspect of improvement that HMN works towards is, according to Lubinsky, resolving the "epidemic of indicators". HMN also provides a framework that describes key components and includes a common vocabulary as a means to create dialogue between different factions within a country's HIS. Of utmost importance, Lubinsky stressed, is the need to listen attentively to the local community and create a Health Information System that, overall, benefits the community.

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